What the Duck: Print Critique

See more of “What’s” adventure at his website.

Homeward Bound: Before and After

I’m making this post to show two of my favorite products at work: NIK image-enhancement software and John Hartman QuickMats custom digital mats.

The perfectly awful original, shown above, is from a bunch of typical stupid seagull pictures that everyone seems compelled to take when they are by the ocean — in this case the west coast of Ireland. Shot with my trusty Canon 5-D, I was about to delete it when I noticed the gull with his mouth open. Apparently he's screaming at the other guys to get out of his way. I decided to crop in on just him . . . then I saw what was in the distance.

I played around with some NIK filters (Color Efex Pro) to add vibrancy and color to the image, used a touch of Nik Sharpener Pro on the bird, then I cropped it to straighten the horizon line. I then created a Hartman mat around it and hung it in my bedroom along with a group of favorite images I'd made in Ireland. I enjoyed it so much — because it really gives me that "land's end" feeling I get whenever I visit the the coast of Ireland — that I decided to enter it in competition. I was thrilled that it received a Merit last month at the national judging. I hung two others, both of which I used filters to enhance, but with those images I had something to work with in the first place — not just a throw-away (almost) snapshot that was hiding a treasure.

My conversion to digital did not come quickly or easily: I've observed the implosion of way too many studios placed under the stress of trying to implement a brand new workflow overnight. Letting go of my beloved Mamiya RZ67 and my fixed-tripod world has been tough. But what really made me embrace the digital world is recognizing that in my film world, I nearly always felt somewhat letdown when I saw the proofs of an image that had thrilled me when I snapped the shutter. But with digital, I can take that same image and bring out the the actual emotion I was feeling because of what I was beholding. Now, every time I look at "Homeward Bound," I am transported to that magic place that Ireland has become to me, and I am filled with the emotions I have for the exquisite land, fascinating places, and marvelous people I've experienced there. Wow! What a gift digital has given to me.


It's a Woman Thing!

The male vs. female view of marketing and sales obviously still ripples across the many years that my husband Jim and I have been in business together. I've always called Jim the "King of Plastic Bags," as he believes they are the most practical device ever invented for packaging EVERYTHING. He has strenuously resisted my attempts to look for attractive packaging alternatives.

In an effort to impress on Jim the importance of elegant packaging, I went so far as to purchase the tin of Tea Forte' infusers that you see here. This delightful company sells tea products that are magnificently packaged. This tin contains two of what Jim would call "tea bags." Tea Forte', however, calls them "silken infusers." I pointed out that the product would be nothing without the packaging: a beautifully designed tin, holding two delightful tent-shaped coverings for the infusers. The tin itself is wrapped in a lovely belly-band. "You are paying a few cents for the tea product and the rest for the beautiful container, which sends a message that you appreciate fine things," I explained. Jim inspected the product for a few minutes, then he looked at me like I was crazy.

So I've learned my lesson: The attraction of beautiful packaging is generally a woman thing, but a very important issue if you are marketing to women. Beautiful packaging sends a message to clients that reinforces their choice of having purchased a fine product. It's an inexpensive way to combat "buyer's remorse" and the perfect way to conclude each client's experience with your business.

Take a minute to browse through the Tea Forte' website. It will teach you a lot about the value of exquisite design and artful packaging.

Attention Parents!

This sign caught my eye while having lunch at a fun restaurant across from the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, during the Make More Money Conference. Wouldn't you just LOVE to post a sign like this in your studio for certain parents to read?

Image 11-22-14 at 10.21 PM

SuccessWare Leasing . . . The Way to Go!

I'm often asked whether it's best to lease or purchase SuccessWare. To me the answer is a no-brainer: Leasing is definitely the way to go. Leasing assures that you are always working on the current version of SuccessWare, which is preferable for software applications that are critical to your business operations. The monthly single-user leasing fee of $49 includes all future upgrades as well as continuous technical support. Multi-user is only $79 per month. Judy Grann, SuccessWare vice president, tells me that since the company introduced leasing in 2003, over 90% of their new clients have chosen the leasing option, and many other SuccessWare users have moved to leasing so that they are fully upgraded and also retain access to continued support.

If you have questions about leasing or wish to switch to leasing, you can email Successware at info@successware.net or phone them at 800-593-3767.

Check Out My Article on Boutique Studios

The May issue of Professional Photographer contains an article I wrote on Boutique Studios. I've spent many months studying this emerging business model, which I believe is one of the most important trends I've observed since I became a photographer. I hope you enjoy the article and others in the issue that concern marketing to women, who, of course, represent the majority of our client base. So watch for your copy in the mail!

Using ProSelect for Album & Book Layouts

Last July my son and his long-time fiancee finally got married. Although they had been together since college, the decision tie the knot on PPA's first-ever cruise event was very much a spur-of-the-moment decision. My son Wes heard his dad and me talking about our going on the cruise, and he figured this would be as good a time and place as any to make it official. Jess agreed, so on July 10, 2006, Wes and Jess were married aboard ship, with family members and a bunch of photographer friends in attendance.

We were extremely fortunate that award-winning wedding photographers Jamie Hayes and Mary Fisk-Taylor offered to cover the wedding. Their photos were awesome, but at first it was a daunting task for me to put an album together, as I hadn't built a wedding album in many, many years. Then I remembered that one of my SMS Clients, Parker Smith of Atlanta, had told me he uses ProSelect to create layouts that he outputs for albums. So Parker gave me some tips and I read ProSelect's handy user guide and discovered how easy it is to quickly design your own layouts, add the images, then output them through the software's production module. What really amazed me was that I negotiated the learning curve and had 44 pages completed within less than a day.

Since the bride and groom really didn't want a traditional album, I decided to try to upload the files to Marathon Press to create a hard-bound book from their new Premiere Editions series. Again, the process was incredibly easy, and less than two weeks later I received a 10x10 illustrated-cover hard-bound book for the bride and groom, 8x8 books for the parents, and several nice purse-size 5x5s.

The entire process was so much fun and the books so attractive and inexpensive that I intend to start rounding up all of my family portraits and vacation images that are stuck in drawers, bulky albums, and who-knows-where else, and create a library of books that will take up so much less space and be fun for my family to enjoy.

Why SuccessWare?

Back in the mid-1990's, I got a call from Jeff Grann, who asked me if I would be willing to consult with him on the development of a comprehensive studio management software application. I had met Jeff through his wife, Judy, who was one of my first (and best) business students. As a brand-new photographer in her early 20's, Judy was highly motivated to move her fledgling studio business from her townhouse basement to a retail location so that Jeff could use the space at home for a pool table. As cumbersome as business planning was back then—you had to do all your calculations by pencil, paper, and adding machine—Judy understood that a financial and marketing plan were the only option for achieving her goal. I've never seen anyone attack a business plan like Judy did. She made the plan, then worked the plan, and soon she was in a lovely studio space in downtown Fairfax, VA.

In those days Jeff was working in Washington as a TRW computer engineer, and I was struggling with how to automate my monthly accounting chores. I showed Jeff the home-made management system that I had cobbled together from three off-the-shelf applications, and he set up something similar for Judy's studio. Jeff was amazed that no one had developed a true financial management software for the photography industry. In those days there were some systems that handled income and client data, but nothing that integrated all the elements that photographers need to run a studio using a single data file. So when I got Jeff's call I was intrigued that he and Judy had decided that her business was sufficiently profitable that Jeff could quit his lucrative software development job to work full time developing what would become SuccessWare. I was particularly pleased that the software would include not only tracking features, but also business planning and pricing modules. We began a series of meetings so that Jeff could understand exactly what financial management features photographers needed to help them make more money, doing so according to industry standards for financial management. During those early meetings, I could never have envisioned that SuccessWare would become the incredible multi-faceted tool that it is today. In fact, SuccessWare has added so many mind-boggling features since those early days when I was in weekly contact with Jeff and Judy, that I have vowed to attended one of their SuccessWare "immersion" classes before the year is out.

Knowing that I was involved in the early development of SuccessWare, I get lots of questions about SuccessWare and why I believe SuccessWare is essential for profitable studio management. Here's the answer I give:

SuccessWare is the industry's ONLY fully integrated financial and business management software that encompasses all of your studio business needs—business planning, product pricing, scheduling, client and prospect tracking, order tracking, bill paying and complete financial management and reporting. Everything you need is always in one place: no double entries, hunting for cheat sheets, etc. I've lived through the days when you had to do daily hand entries and then spend three days each month to hand-create your financial records. Things improved with computers, but you still had to work in 3 or 4 applications and create your own personalized reports. With SuccessWare, once you enter data and pay your bills, reports are automatic, and this is the way it has to be for busy, successful people. When you look around and see who's making money in this industry, it's not a coincidence that most of them are SuccessWare users.

You can learn a great deal more about SuccessWare by going to their website (SuccessWare.net). You'll find all kinds of resources—from video tours to a free download demo. Just click here to take a look.

Exciting News Today

Today I received some exciting news from Cameron Bishopp, editor of Professional Photographer Magazine. Last November the magazine included an article entitled “How You Can Make More Money,” which concerned the Financial Benchmark Survey, a project for which I wrote the "Findings." The article, written by Leslie Hunt, summarized those findings.

So I was thrilled to learn that the article was honored with a Gold award from the Southeast Magazine Association's annual awards. Here's what the judge had to say: “Compelling, focused, specific, impeccably researched and relevant to its audience: Those are the qualities that garnered Professional Photographer's “How You Can Make More Money” the Gold Award for Best Service Journalism. The story summarized industry benchmarks without becoming mired in extraneous detail, outlined specific recommendations for increasing profits and included real-life "turnaround" stories that illustrated how business owners could use the article’s tips to do exactly what the headline
promised. Bravo!"

Congratulations to Leslie Hunt, PPA CFO Scott Kurkian, and the staff of PPA’s Studio Management Services for their hard work. It’s not often that you get a pat on the back for an article about financial management in a photography magazine. It feels really good! If you haven’t read it yet, then click on the graphic below to download a pdf.


Gift Cards Make Great Marketing Sense

Since they were introduced last fall, Gift Cards have become one of Marathon's hottest products. No wonder. Holiday sales of gift cards were off the chart. They just make a lot of sense for consumers who want to buy meaningful gifts for friends or family, but who simply don't have time to prowl malls to find them.

You can use your own design, or Marathon can do the design for you. Marathon also can create a complete direct mail package that includes the Gift Card with your choice of two different mailer styles. Click here for specifications and pricing.

Think about the potential impact on seniors, when you send them a Gift Card to spend on their senior portraits. These cards are really hard to throw away because they feel like real money!


Meet Peter and Fran Howlett

One of the most important unsolicited emails I ever opened was from Peter Howlett, shown above with his wife Fran. Back in 2002, I was searching everywhere for a digital solution for preview presentation. My lab had just announced that they would no longer produce "transproofs," which had been our most essential selling tool, almost since the day we opened. Other labs were doing the same, so we faced a studio crisis.

Early in our photographic career my husband Jim began to fiddle around with Kodak 5072 film, which he used to copy frames of 6x7 film using a 100 watt light bulb, a copy stand, a black box, and a piece of opal glass, then developing the resulting slides by hand in our darkroom. Projecting our images made wall portraits literally sell themselves. We became evangelists on the speaking circuit, trying to convince wary photographers that this was the way to go. It took a while for labs to catch on, but finally they began to offer transpoofs or transviews, and we retired our home-made setup. We certainly didn't want to get it out again, and we COULDN'T do without the vital tool that allowed us to send our kids to college, feed all the pets, and finance a vacation home.

I reviewed several programs, but nothing really clicked until I received an interesting email from a company called TimeExposure, located literally on the other side of the world. I downloaded a trial version of the software, read the "Quick Start" pdf, and I was thrilled! Pretty soon I was on the phone with Peter, because I wanted to understand his development plans to make sure this wasn't a "hobby project." Indeed it wasn't, and ProSelect has been all I had hoped for and more. Early on I introduced digital guru Ron Nichols to ProSelect when he was looking for something to replace ProShots. Ron and Peter go along famously, and soon they were collaborating on projects and sharing a trade show booth.

I now use ProSelect for everything from browsing and selecting my images, selling them to clients, and outputting the selected images to the lab or to my printer. It has become a total workflow solution, and recently SuccessWare linked their software to ProSelect's ordering system, so that client orders placed during the ProSelect sales sessions can flow right into SuccessWare. This represents a HUGE step forward in facilitating studio workflow. If you want to learn how to import orders from ProSelect to SuccessWare, click here to view a SuccessWare "How To" screen movie on the subject.

It's been wonderful getting to know Peter and Fran at PPA events. They are a delightful couple, and so pleased that American photographers have embraced their software and are using it to make their businesses more profitable. Last February Fran attended my Guerrilla Management Workshop in Fredericksburg, VA, where she was kind enough to give the class an evening tutorial on ProSelect. Those of us who consider ourselves veteran ProSelect users learned a lot about exciting features we had overlooked. I plan to mention some of them in future blog entries.

So I wanted you to meet Peter and Fran. Their company, Time Exposure, is based in Perth, Western Australia. Geographically, Perth is almost exactly on the opposite side of the world to Jacksonville, Florida and consequently it's time zone is 12 hours ahead of New York time, which made it fairly easy for me to communicate with Pete, when I was learning about ProSelect. Fortunately, he is an early riser, and I work late. His 7 A.M. is my 7 P.M.

From the beginning, Peter and Fran have worked on ProSelect together. His background is in electronic engineering specializing in software development, and Fran is a master photographer and a former national board member of the Australian Institute of Professional Photographers. Fran made the switch to digital in early 2002 with the purchase of a Canon 1D body and soon involved Peter as her technical support person. This involvement in the changing world of digital photography led Peter and Fran to start to design and develop the award winning products now used by thousands of professional digital photographers around the world. Photographers everywhere owe them a debt of gratitude for making projection an industry norm and a profitability standard.

Happy April Fool's Day!

April Fool's Day seems as good as any day to start a new venture. For a year I've been reading about and visiting blogs . . . all kinds of blogs . . . blogs by photographers, blogs about business, and even blogs about politics. What I've learned is that blogs are a marvelously versatile means of communication.

I get a lot of emails from photographers looking for answers to marketing and management questions, and it's hard to answer each one individually. So I've decided to go the blog route as a means of communicating with more photographers more efficiently.

If you would like the answer to a question that you believe will be beneficial to others in addition to yourself, just send me an email at ann@annmonteith.com. Please limit each email to one question, as long emails full of questions tend to go to the bottom of the email pile.

So . . . Happy April Fool's Day, and let's see what happens . . . .